Preservation and Development of Agricultural Land Bill: DALRRD briefing; with Ministry

Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development

17 February 2023
Chairperson: Mr Z Mandela (ANC)
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Meeting Summary


The Portfolio Committee on Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development met virtually for a briefing by the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD) on the Preservation and Development of Agricultural Land Bill (PDALB).

The Bill aims to provide a regulatory framework for sustainable agricultural development and to increase employment, reduce poverty and improve the quality of life of rural and urban communities. The Committee welcomed the presentation of the Bill and emphasised its urgency. The Minister suggested a mid-year deadline but indicated that it depended on lawmakersprocesses to ensure that the Bill becomes law, preferably before the end of 2023.

The allocation of agricultural land for housing development by traditional leaders and the illegal invasion of land were concerning to Members because it was starting to encroach on food production land availability. The Minister acknowledged land hunger but cautioned against unlawful occupation. She undertook to engage traditional leaders on the matter and to provide feedback to the Committee.

Meeting report

Chairpersons opening remarks

The Chairperson welcomed the Minister of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development, Thoko Didiza, Deputy Minister, Mcebisi Skwatsha, and the Director-General (DG) of the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD). He also greeted Members at the first sitting of the Committee in 2023 and hoped that everyone had a good rest and was not affected by load-shedding. He expressed his confidence that the Ministry of Electricity would appoint an effective project manager to deal with load-shedding.

He said that the Committees work covered three critical areas that impacted the lives, livelihoods and wellbeing of all citizens. He added that through their work, Members helped to create an enabling environment for government, civil society, business and other role players to address the fundamental needs of people in terms of alleviating hunger and food security and addressing

He said that the Committee knew about the meeting that the Minister and the Department had with farmers and farmer formations on the impact of load-shedding and the energy crisis on agriculture. He asked the Department and the Minister to brief the Committee fully on the meeting, its outcomes and the next steps. He invited them to give feedback to the Committee on Friday, 24 February 2023.

He stated that the current institutional and legal framework for developing agricultural land was ineffective in protecting it for food production and did not meet constitutional requirements. He said that it was important to pass the PDALB into law to protect agricultural land proactively for food production in line with section 27(1)(b) of the Constitution. He invited them to present the Bill to the Committee.

Ministers opening remarks

Minister Didiza wished everyone well with the work they needed to do in this sector. She said that the previous year ended and the current year started with serious challenges in terms of energy security. It had a huge impact on agriculture in terms of food security. Moreover, there seemed to be ongoing challenges with the European Union (EU) regulations that affected not only citrus but also other industries including beverages and some animal products. She said that she was engaging the EU continuously for a lasting solution to ease the challenges of farmers. The situation led the Department to increase its footprint and markets in other parts of the world to maximise market opportunities for farmers. She said that the legislation on preserving agricultural land had gone through various stages, including at NEDLAC.

She said that an important aspect of this legislation was protecting agricultural land despite competing needs. At the same time, the Bill was creating an opportunity for consultation at a departmental level where some land parcels might require re-zoning or changing from agriculture to other uses. She said that they would present the key principles and elements of the Bill and its importance to the Committee. She added that the Bill was also creating opportunities for other spheres of government to work together on managing agricultural land. She said that because there was no specific legislation to preserve agricultural land, they had used the subdivision of the Land Act of 1970 but it recently exposed some gaps and limitations in preserving agricultural land, especially high-potential agricultural land. She said human settlements had encroached on agricultural land in peri-urban areas. She said that the Department recognised the need for different land uses but argued that it was still important to protect agricultural land because it was key for productivity, and to creating possibilities of food security and fighting hunger in the country.

DALRRD presentation
The DG of DALRRD, Mr Mooketsa Ramasodi, explained that the presentation encompassed seven principles which formed the bedrock on which the issues of agricultural land and competing rights would be articulated. He emphasised the seven principles and other key areas that must be emphasised to ensure appropriate legislation for the protection of agricultural land. He called on the DDG to deliver the presentation on behalf of the Department.

The DDG of Agricultural Production, Biosecurity and Disaster Management, Mr Dipepeneneng Serage, said the Bill resulted from broad consultation with all those that matter in the sector. All the processes had been worked through in the fifth administration. The subdivision aimed to discourage further division of agricultural land because existing legislation was no longer relevant due to advances in science and technology.

The strategic imperative of the Bill was to entrench regulatory measures for the security of high-potential agricultural land and to make more land available for cultivation and advancement of socio-economic interests of all South Africans. The Bill aimed to ensure sustainable development of the Agricultural sector to maintain and increase employment, reduce poverty levels and create sustainable improvement in quality of life of rural and urban communities. The Bill provided for a five-yearly review of land and allocation of land for other purposes if deemed no longer profitable.

Ms M Tlhape (ANC) said she appreciated the importance of this piece of legislation , especially in terms of its impact on small towns where informal settlements were encroaching on agricultural land. She acknowledged that land availability was a problem but the focus on expansion of agricultural land should not be ignored. Despite the competing challenges, the Committee would proceed with the Bill and assist all stakeholders, especially municipalities , to preserve their own heritage.

Mr N Masipa (DA) expressed his concern about the two disasters facing the country, namely Eskom and the vaccine shortage for animal diseases. He proposed a review of the programme to include these two issues in an attempt to support small-scale and upcoming farmers. He asked that the Minister and Eskom management be invited to brief the Committee. He agreed that the Bill was important but said that the areas being covered related to the commercial aspect and not communal land. He bemoaned the chiefsallocation of agricultural land for residential development in rural areas, which do not take cognisance of farming needs. Tribal authorities must play a role in managing communal grazing land. In addition, land invasions for purposes of informal settlements were taking place across the country. He was concerned that the Bill was being used as an election manifesto while government should have policies in place to ensure that its work was aligned.

The Chairperson replied to Mr Masipa and clarified that he did request the Minister to brief the Committee on Friday, 24 February 2023, about her meeting with the farmers. He also agreed to investigate concerns by farmers which Mr Matiase had raised in his submission.

Mr S Matiase (EFF) questioned why it took the Department so long to amend the South African Land Act (SALA). In his view, the Bill was being presented without baseline information such as whether it included government-owned land, provinces and municipalities or the private sector. He wanted to know if the Bill would have jurisdiction over privately owned land. The presentation did not give detail that underpinned the Bill, e.g. whether it covered land under tribal or communal ownership, and land in urban areas used for settlement and residential purposes. He asked if the Bill had been categorised for different purposes and if the different land needs had been taken into consideration. He proposed that baseline information be made available to guide future discussions. He warned against the process becoming a mere tick-box exercise.

Ms B Tshwete (ANC) expressed her satisfaction that the Committee was starting the year by correcting the gaps in the legislation. She was pleased that Mr Masipa had read the ANC manifesto but corrected him by stating that this Bill was not an election manifesto. The invasion of agricultural land was a crisis hence why the Bill was important. The agricultural sector was identified as a key sector that could change the economy regarding addressing unemployment. The Bill should therefore be approved as a matter of urgency. She requested that the DG followed up on other outstanding Bills and pleaded with the Minister to intensify her engagements with European Union to alleviate the farmerssuffering, especially regarding the loss in the citrus industry. She wanted to know how many hectares of agricultural land were at stake.

Inkosi R Cebekhulu (IFP) stated that the biggest challenge was the illegal occupation of land designated for agriculture. People felt that they had achieved the right to reside anywhere because of the past when the apartheid government forced citizens to live in horrible places. He was pleased that the Department was investigating these challenges. He argued that it was not only tribal leaders who were involved in allocating agricultural land for other purposes. He requested that challenges in rural areas also be investigated where people felt entitled to occupy land, thereby squeezing grazing and ploughing fields.

Mr N Capa (ANC) said that the Bill was long overdue and agreed that it was necessary to pass it as a matter of urgency. He sought clarity on what could be done to prevent land from being lost to food production. For example, good grazing land in Umtata was being occupied. The allocation of agricultural land for housing was not only done by traditional leaders but had become a dangerous and common tendency among people who became involved in land grabs to make money. He sought clarity on the argument that forests are also part of agricultural land. He asked if a database was available on how much land was available for food production.

Mr M Montwedi (EFF) asked for clarification on the reference made by the DG about agricultural land versus competing interests. He disagreed that communities were doing as they pleased and argued that people needed land. He was concerned about the role played by traditional leaders and asked if these leaders had been empowered to preserve agricultural land. He questioned the Departments lack of proactivity in doing the five-yearly review to protect agricultural land from being used for human settlements. He enquired about the reason for not promulgating the commencement date of the SALA repeal. He asked about the link between the Spatial Planning Land Use Management Act (SPLUMA) and other municipal laws. He reiterated that people were not invading land and that land hunger must be addressed.

Ms N Mahlo (ANC) concurred with her colleagues that the Bill must be passed as a matter of urgency to support communities in terms of dealing with land matters.

The Chairperson wanted to know how the Department was dealing with the numerous calls from communities in Mpumalanga who were being affected by mining licences impacting on agricultural land. Lots of agricultural land, including in other provinces, were being allocated for mining. He asked if the implementation of the Bill would include other spheres of government and whether municipalities and provinces had been informed about effectively implementing the Bill. In 2015, the implementation costs were estimated at R68 million. He sought clarity if this amount was still applicable, whether the funds had been secured and if they covered other spheres of government.

DALRRD Response
Ms Lydia Bosoga, Chief Director of Land Use and Soil Management, confirmed that the Bill was related to the protection and the need to expand agricultural land. The process would involve inter-departmental engagements between municipalities and provinces. The Bill would allow municipalities to zone land for different uses, e.g. agricultural, industrial and housing. The Department would communicate measures to guide municipalities regarding high-value land to ensure the agro-eco system was not negatively affected. Currently, communal areas are not being regulated because they were classified as part of state land. But the new Bill would demarcate and protect land with the potential and suitability for planting crops. Most communities were unaware of high-value land and needed to be educated on the matter. The Department agreed that municipalities could use land for housing, provided there was no danger of flooding. In response to the question about acting on the ANC manifesto, she argued that the Department did what was expected regarding its mandate. The Bill would provide for the demarcation of agricultural land to enable investment. A review of progress would be done after five years. The process of drafting the Bill took some time because it involved intense engagements with many interested parties. She agreed that people were taking advantage of land grabs. But there were no regulatory tools to curb the abuse because existing legislation did not provide the mechanism, such as the agro-eco management system, that has since been introduced.

Mr Serage said that the expansion of communal land might hinder the ability to feed the nation over time. But the evolution of science might assist in finding sources of land for rehabilitation. He urged government to make a conscious effort to expand land for food production. The Bill would enable the surveillance of any piece of land and the demarcation of high-value and productive land. The enactment of PDALB would cover any piece of land classified as high-value agricultural land irrespective of ownership. There was a need for PDALB to deal with housing development encroaching on agricultural land and to provide the legal instrument to assess the encroachment of useable land every five years. He acknowledged that issuing mining licences had resulted in a few court cases but did not have the details of the concerns reported in Mpumalanga. The Department was discouraging the donation or lease of land to government, as was done by Eskom, because it bypassed the regulatory framework. In response to the implementation costs of the Bill, he replied that the inflation rate would have increased the amount. He, unfortunately, did not have the updated figure available to share with the Committee but a budget allocation had been made for this purpose. The budget did not extend to other spheres of government but municipalities and provinces would be informed about their role. The Bill was limited to agricultural land and would allow the Department to work across the country.

The DG stated that the objective of the Bill was to classify agricultural land based on land capability instead of the subdivision in terms of SALA. The shortcoming of the existing Bill was that it was based on ownership. He drew attention to the 2017 land audit which gave an indication of the available land, hence the need for expansion.

Deputy Minister Skwatsha said that the matters raised by Members had been sufficiently canvassed. The discussion about agricultural land was opportune. He agreed that there had to be an equitable distribution of land to address land hunger but cautioned that it had to be done within the prescripts of the law to avoid illegal invasions.

Minister Didiza noted the comments and the proposals made by Members. She advised Mr Matiase to consult the 2017 land audit outcomes which provided detail on the availability of agricultural land. The nature of the Bill required the Department to consult as wide as possible within and outside government, hence it took so long to complete. Although land hunger was a reality, she disagreed that land invasions were driven by land hunger. Land invasions had to be addressed because they were making the issue of service delivery challenging. Considering the rising costs, she said  the estimated R68 million would be relooked and  the new figure would be communicated to the Committee. The Department would be guided by the Committee on how to deal with the issues related to energy and vaccines.

Follow up discussion
Mr Masipa stated that despite the challenges of land hunger, the prescripts of the law had to be followed. As lawmakers, Members should not be seen to be encouraging a culture of lawlessness. He found the exclusions in the Bill a bit problematic. He said that the Bill was more applicable to the commercial sector rather than to communal land. He asked when the Department was planning to ensure the protection of communal land to protect small farmers. He argued that the issue should have been tackled with capacity instead of following a piecemeal approach. Considering the Gauteng High Court judgment, he asked what date was envisaged for the enactment of the Bill.

Mr Montwedi asked if the Department had been aware that the greatest land invasions were being done by the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE). To his knowledge, mining licences had been issued for two farms in North West that were meant for agriculture. He asked how relevant the Bill was to deal with the mining licence issue.

The DG of DALRRD replied that the existing Bill had excluded communal land. The new Bill tried to remedy the lack of capabilities to protect agricultural land. The inclusion of communal land would result in the expansion of agricultural land. He said mining was one of the competing rights, therefore the Minister had engaged with the Minister of the DMRE to ensure the protection of agricultural land and co-existence, instead of competing rights, between mining and agriculture.

Minister Didiza said she wanted to have the Bill promulgated by mid-year but it depended on lawmakers to do what was necessary to ensure that the Bill became law. The Committee should follow and conclude the normal processes, preferably by mid-year but before the end of the year. She reminded Members that mineral rights were held by the state. When mineral rights were allocated to mining houses, a period of dual rights came into existence. Most of the mining houses then converted agricultural land into mining. The Act of 1970 was not adequate enough to preserve agricultural land. The new Bill would allow the Department to consult stakeholders and to consider the balance that must be struck. Nothing was preventing the DMRE from issuing licences for state-owned land. The Bill provided a mechanism for determining how best to deal with different parcels of land. She undertook to engage with traditional leaders on their proposal regarding communal land and preserving grazing land for agricultural purposes.

The Chairperson said any further questions would be submitted to the Ministry for written responses. He thanked the Minister, Deputy Minister, DG and officials of the Department for taking the Committee through the Bill and responding to the questions.

Adoption of Minutes
The minutes of 29 November 2022 were presented and adopted without changes.

Closing remarks

Mr Masipa reiterated his proposal to review the programme to reflect on the happenings in the agriculture sector. The unavailability of vaccines for animal diseases was posing a real crisis. Urgent strategies were needed to deal with the crisis. In his view, there were many issues for which the Department should be held to account.

The Chairperson replied that the programme had been approved after being circulated and sent to the National Assembly and the Speaker through the Chair of Chairs. He encouraged Members to contact him directly on matters of urgency. The Committee had matters of legislation to deal with in the sixth Parliament. He requested that the Secretariat slot in important issues on Fridays. The Management Committee could attend to urgent matters. His interaction with Mr Matiase and Mr Masipas e-mail enabled him to request that the Minister present the outcomes of her meeting with farmers about their concerns with loadshedding. He requested that Members engage and give input during the process of compiling the programme before it was sent to Parliament. He concluded that they had exhausted the programme for the day and thanked Members for availing themselves and for their robust engagement with the Department. He thanked the Committees support staff for helping Members navigate virtual meetings. He thanked the guests for their interest in the work of the Committee and the media members who continuously engaged and wrote articles. He encouraged everyone to support the womens cricket team participating in the T20 World Cup currently hosted in South Africa.

The meeting was adjourned.


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